Rotherham, South Yorkshire (Photo by Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)
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These children did not matter

A fine film exposes grooming gangs and their enablement

They made a judgement that these children did not matter.” That is the conclusion of former Detective Constable Margaret Oliver in Grooming Gangs: Britain’s Shame — a new film presented by the journalist Charlie Peters, which will be broadcast on GB News this Saturday. 

A female cohort seems to have set up a fake rape crisis centre

Peters — who, in the interests of full disclosure, has written for The Critic — investigates a scandal which has been too often shunted to the margins of British public life: the grooming and rape of thousands of British girls and the indifference of state authorities. He speaks to victims and whistleblowers, who were ignored and intimidated for years before the horrifying scale of the problem — the Jay Report found that 1400 girls had been abused in Rotherham alone — was eventually exposed.

What was the problem? It was not just rape or even child rape (crimes which are depressingly timeless and universal). It was large-scale organised collective child rape, occurring across the UK, in Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford, Oxford and other towns and cities.

Adult men would convince vulnerable girls that they were their “boyfriends” — offering the promise of love, care and attention before trapping them in nightmares of sexual abuse. Sometimes, it appears, the means by which girls were groomed was even more devious. A female cohort of the Rotherham rapists, Peters tells us, seems to have set up a fake rape crisis centre.

It’s a shame that the film did not explore the tragic backgrounds of these girls, but to expect a short documentary to cover all of the important aspects of such a widespread and horrifying phenomenon would be like expecting a shot glass to contain a bottle of vodka. Many had fallen through the cracks of the care system. The police were often shockingly unsympathetic because they saw them as low-class troublemakers — ignoring or outright insulting them.

The scandals have disquieting implications for advocates of devolution

Most if not all the criminals in many of the gangs had Pakistani heritage. A survivor Peters interviews remembers her abusers calling her and fellow victims “white slags”not a unique experience — which reflects an ugly, open seam of racial contempt. Margaret Oliver alleges that concern about social cohesion encouraged local authorities to avoid the issue — an allegation substantiated by elements of the Jay Report (pages 2, 92 and 93) and the Crowther Report (page 113). The latter, for example, which investigated abuse in Telford, found, “It is impossible, sadly, not to wonder how history might have been different had the culture in the 1990s and early 2000s within the Council and [West Midlands Police] not been overly concerned with questions of race and placed a greater focus on child protection.”

Have lessons been learned here? What do you think? Saajid Javid ordered a review of the “characteristics” of child sexual exploitation gangs in 2018. “The report was a whitewash,” Peters tells us. “It limply concluded that data collection on ethnicity was so poor that it was impossible to know the truth.” (Interested readers can find a more comprehensive articulation of this argument from Jonathan Gleadell on the website Areo.)

Beyond these factors, though, there was a pathological aversion to bad news — to the idea that the towns and cities that local authorities represented were harbouring such crimes. Memorably, an email from an Oldham communications officer, which reported fobbing off a very justifiably curious reporter, also contained the note: “In case you didn’t know: We’ve also won Best City at Northwest in Bloom again today.” Wahoo!

Heavily related was a pathological aversion to accountability — one that has survived to 2023. No one who ignored or enabled the problem has faced serious consequences. Indeed, elsewhere Peters has reported for GB News on Rotherham councillors who have somehow failed upwards in politics and the public sector. His reporting convinced one of them to step down as a Labour parliamentary candidate.

The scandals have disquieting implications, then, for advocates of devolution. In Rotherham, but also Rochdale, Telford and elsewhere, local authorities failed time and again. Granted, it is not as if national authorities were especially responsive. Local councils and police forces nonetheless had a special interest in being inert. With this in mind — as well as the depressing and apparently inexorable decline of local media — ensuring accountability on and between all levels of the British state is essential.

At the end of his impressive and admirable film, presented with clarity and proper seriousness, Peters asks if such appalling crimes are still continuing. A 2022 report into allegations of grooming gangs in Rotherham denied their truthfulness and concluded that safeguarding mechanisms are now more robust. Still we must be vigilant, within state services but also as private citizens. 

Denouncing crimes years after they were carried out is like lamenting injuries years after they have been inflicted: worth doing, perhaps, but potentially impotent. This was the case with grooming gangs, in the last decade, as well as with various incidents of long-dead sexual predators like Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith. We should be more prepared for current and future crimes — not by succumbing to hysterical paranoia, but by being open to victims, rigorous with data and contemptuous of people prioritising ideological awkwardness over British lives.

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